Posted on: November 1st, 2012 by Culture Project No Comments

Death penalty is wrong, says Danbury man exonerated after serving 18 years in prison

By Fernando Bermudez
Posted: April 6, 2012

One would think that after spending more than 18 years in maximum security prisons that I would be an expert on our criminal justice system. I am certainly an authority on the system’s flaws — having been exonerated of a murder I did not commit — but I have much to learn about how to change the system so that others do not suffer the same fate.

This is why I am studying criminal justice at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury and why I am a vocal advocate for repealing our state’s death penalty.

My case is tragically like so many others.

I spent more than 6,700 days in a 6-by-9 cell in some of the worst prisons in New York State. I was attacked by other inmates, subjected to men who were defecating right next to me, and had to endure unbearable noise to the point where — at times — I considered committing suicide.

During those 18 years I lost 10 appeals, despite a complete lack of evidence against me. Once a person has been convicted it is almost impossible to reverse the result, especially without DNA evidence. DNA evidence exists in only about 10 percent of all homicides.

So the potential for error is very real.

Across our country, nearly 300 people have been exonerated due to evidence of their innocence, including Kenneth Ireland, James Tillman and Miguel Roman right here in Connecticut — 140 of those exonorees had been on death row.

I was incredibly fortunate to have a tenacious attorney who had a creative idea about how we might earn a new trial. An impressive team was assembled — a law professor; a Washington, D.C., law firm; a former U.S. Attorney; the Innocence Project and Centurion Ministries.

My “Dream Team” helped to create a public outcry and I started to receive national media attention from MSNBC, CourtTV and The New York Times.

Eventually the prosecution admitted, for the first time in New York history, that their star witness had committed perjury. I was offered the opportunity to plead to manslaughter. I could go home and the charges would be dismissed. But I said no.

After 18 years of suffering for a crime I didn’t commit, I remained committed to the truth and went forward with the proceedings.

Finally, I would receive justice. Eleven witnesses came forward with the truth. The judge actually declared me to be “innocent” based upon perjured testimony, illegal identification procedures and prosecutorial error.

The system isn’t perfect.

My greatest fear as a personal victim of this wrongful conviction is that an innocent person may be wrongfully executed. The law is a human instrument and there is the possibility, the grave risk, of an innocent person being executed.

My experience continues to haunt me today, as it should all policy makers here in our state. I urge legislators to abolish the death penalty because what happened to me shouldn’t happen to anyone else.

Fernando Bermudez, a Danbury resident, spent 18 years in the New York state prison system for a murder he did not commit. He was exonerated and released in 2009.

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